A first in the world: 1 million e-Visas in 11 months

A first in the world: 1 million e-Visas in 11 months

The number of foreigners visiting Turkey has been increasing significantly. While this number stood at around 10 million in the early 2000s, last year over 35 million foreigners visited Turkey. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Turkey was the world’s 6th most popular tourism destination in 2013. If the current trend is maintained, we will climb further up this list.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry is one of the main contributors to tourism in the country. Over 200 missions of the ministry work day and night to promote Turkey. Visas constitute yet another area that connects the Foreign Ministry to tourism. Visa practice is a significant factor in attracting tourists. Nearly 40 percent of the tourists visiting Turkey are required to obtain visas. Until April last year, Turkish visas could only be obtained either from Turkish Embassies and Consulates General or, for the citizens of certain countries, from the visa counters at ports of entry. To be frank, visa application was not a pleasant experience for any side: long visa lines, wasted hours, energy and resources. 

In response to these challenges, we analyzed the visa process to create an alternative way by employing information technologies; later we initiated a project towards the end of 2012 and completed it within less than 6 months. The first e-Visa was issued on April 17, 2013.

I’ll never forget the coordination meeting we held on the first day of the e-Visa system. I asked my colleagues to try to guess the number of e-Visas to be issued on that day. We had not made any announcements about the system. Even in the ministry, not more than 10 people knew about it. While some colleagues did not expect any applications at all, one of them predicted 50. This number seemed quite high to me at that time.

We issued 67 e-Visas that day. With much excitement, we dreamed of issuing hundreds, even thousands of e-Visas daily sometime in the future. After a few months, the average number of e-Visas issued a day increased to the 3000s. It has been less than a year since the introduction of the system, and now we are issuing over 10 thousand e-Visas daily.

Yesterday 11,526 e-Visas were obtained from the system using self-service with no involvement of even one single personnel. Over $200,000 were paid online for the e-Visa fee by applicants with credit cards. On the same day, the total number of visas issued by over 200 Turkish missions was only 2,527.

Before the turn of the first year, the 1 millionth e-Visa was issued on the night of March 17. At that moment, I was in Denmark with the delegation of the president for an official visit. I shared the news with the president, while we were on a walk together. We had briefed him in the first months of the application, so he was well informed of the system. He was very content with the progress.

Ms. Priyanka Katara, an Indian citizen living in the U.K., obtained the 1 millionth e-Visa. The previous e-Visa was received by a British citizen two seconds earlier and next was issued for someone from the Dominican Republic four seconds after. As we had announced earlier, Ms. Katara will be awarded by Turkish Airlines with two round trip tickets from London to Istanbul.

Contacting Ms. Katara was quite a story. We could not get through to her with the number she provided to us with her e-Visa application and she did not reply to our e-mail.

We searched the Internet and found some contact information. Finally, we managed to talk to her husband. We told him about the award, our failed attempts to contact his wife and asked him to deliver our message to her that we wanted to talk to her directly. However, we did not hear from her.

Determined enough, we called her husband again. We suggested him to send us a message through the official e-Visa website, if they had any doubts about our intention.

The next day we received the following message via the website:

“Hi, I had applied for the e-Visa and my visa reference number is as below. I have been receiving calls from someone from Turkey claiming to be from the Turkish Government saying that I have won a round trip from U.K to Turkey. She also enquired when I will be landing in Turkey and which airport. Are you aware of me having won anything or is it fraud? I was asked which airport I will be landing and which date, so am scared if someone in Turkey is trying to trick me. Please reply”

In our reply, my colleagues assured her that she had indeed won the award tickets and there was nothing to be afraid of and she felt relieved.

Katara arrived in Istanbul on the night of March 27, yesterday. She was welcomed by the officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Turkish Airlines and was presented with the award tickets.

Only a certain number of countries have limited versions of e-Visa systems. To our knowledge, there is no other country providing e-Visa services to thousands of people every day on this scale. We receive the necessary information from the applicants, process this information, collect e-Visa fees online and issue e-Visas in approximately 3 minutes. You can have a look at the comments sent by thousands of users about their experience with the e-Visa system at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/comments/  
The whole process of giving an award to the holder of the 1 millionth e-Visa proved to be quite an experience. It seems that it will not take long before we start making arrangements for the 10 millionth e-Visa holder. I asked my colleagues to make necessary changes, so that we can inform the lucky applicant about the award with the same e-mail message that we will be sending to confirm his or her e-Visa. 

We surely don’t want to exhaust ourselves again through giving an award.

*Ambassador Naci Koru is deputy foreign minister of Turkey